Tuesday, November 22, 2022

The Doctrine Of Scripture Series: What We Have Explored In The Last Several Posts And Looking Ahead

Where we have journeyed thus far

    In our last post we looked carefully at how the New Testament canon was motivated by missions (in terms of the Spirit's inspiration of it, its writing, it recognition, and its distribution). Readers who want to review the last post may do so here

    The many attacks upon the Bible today warrant us knowing the history of how we got our Bibles. As for the New Testament, we explored the beginnings, receiving, recognition, and message of the New Testament canon here

    Over the course of the last several posts, we have discussed the New Testament canon. We discovered that almost all the New Testament books were immediately recognized and used as inspired books by the end of the first century – or the days of the Apostles. In this blog series, I have had us explore issues surrounding the canonization of the Old and New Testament canons, as well as the doctrine of Divine inspiration and its correlary truths of inerrancy and infallibility. Readers are more than welcome to look back through the archives of this blog to see how this series began back in September of 2022. 

Making sure we are clear on what canonization is and is not.

    By the first two-thirds of the second century, every book of the New Testament was universally recognized as inspired, with the first canonical list (The Muratorian canon list) establishing that the 27 books we have today were well in use by the end of the 100’s A.D. (or second century). Contrary to popular skeptics, who claim the early church had hundreds of books to choose from, and only selected the 27 some 400 years into church history, we find history paints a different picture. Canonization was not about kicking out books that were not liked, but rather recognizing inspired books that were qualified to be in the canon.

The Triple Foundation Of Christianity

    Then finally, we noted how the message of the New Testament canon, namely in portraying, preaching, explaining, and prominently exalting Jesus Christ, shaped the New Testament church. It was Christ’s resurrection and the writing and then preaching of the New Testament books that came to define the first century church. Coupled with the already established Old Testament Canon which we’ve discussed in previous posts, we find an important point emerge. Christianity was built on a triple foundation of the Old Testament canon, Christ’s resurrection, and New Testament canon. It is this same foundation that the Holy Spirit is using today to call and regenerate sinners from every nation – until He comes.

Looking ahead

    As we aim to continue in this series, we will explore what criteria were used in the recognition and use of the New Testament books. Also, we will explore other sorts of literature that, though influential in the early church, yet were not regarded as canonical by Christians in every place, everywhere. Some interesting topics, such as the so-called "lost Gospels" or "lost books of the Bible" will be briefly explored. At least for such books as those, we will see that they were not really "lost", but instead were well-known, and immediately rejected books regarded as fraudulant by the early Christians. We will then want to consider contemporary attacks on the Bible. Amazingly, attacks on the Bible, especially in the last three centuries, do not differ in principle from attacks that went on in the first three centuries of the church. As God gives strength, I hope this series will prove useful to whomever reads these posts.

Friday, November 18, 2022

The Doctrine Of Scripture Series: How The New Testament Canon's Beginnings Was Motivated By World Evangelization


    In my last post I introduced reader's to how the New Testament canonical books came to become the collection we know of today as "The New Testament Canon". For those wanting to read the last post, simply click on the following link here One detail thatcannot be overlooked is how the growth and expansion of the church was due to her carrying out the command of Jesus to tell those around her, and the world, about the goodnews of His death, burial, and resurrection. When we discuss evangelism and missions, three New Testament passages are helpful to know. The first of these is called "The Great Commission", and stems from Matthew 28:18-20, which we could term "The Plan for Missions":

"And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

    We then have a second text, Acts 1:8, which we could designate as "The Strategy for Missions". This is to say, where one shares the Gospel in their community ("Jerusalem"); their region ("Judea and Samaria"); and then everywhere else ("the ends of the earth"). 

"but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

    Then the final passage that speaks about the Christian's responsibility in worldwide missions is what I would call "personal responsibility to do missions". 2 Corinthians 5:20-21

"Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."

    One New Testament scholar, David Alan Black of South Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has by his books aided me greatly in seeing canonization aimed at getting the message of the Gospel out to the nations. What follows derives partly from Black's analysis of the relationship between canonization and missions, and partly from observations I've come to conclude over the decades.

The New Testament Canon Followed the Pattern Of World Evangelization
    To chronicle how the New Testament was composed and used, we can follow the development of the New Testament canon along the lines of Jesus’ final instructions to the Apostles and church in Acts 1:8.  The mission strategy of the early church was to begin in Jerusalem, then to Judea and Samaria, with the final stage being that of the ends of the then known world. My point in what will follow is to demonstrate that God's revelation and inspiration of the Old and New Testament Scriptures, as well as His Providential guiding of the church in their canonization, was to provide the basis for doing missions. 

The Early Church had its beginnings in Jersualem.
    As for the “Jerusalem phrase”, we begin with Matthew and James. Matthew is our first Gospel, and arguably among the first books of the New Testament, composed as early as 45-50 A.D. It gives us the life of Christ from a Jewish perspective. He revealed Himself as God in the flesh (Matthew 1:23). He acted in history by way of His earthly ministry, miracles, crucifixion, and resurrection. 

    Following Matthew’s account, Jesus’ half brother James would write a short letter (45-50 A.D.) to the fledgling Jewish church in Jerusalem. It is in James’ letter or Epistle that we get a snapshot of the early church some 15 years after Jesus’ ascension. Matthew would provide the foundation for the first century church’s understanding of Jesus. James would shape how the church would live out the message of Jesus in its ethical and cultural commitments.

Early Christianity spreads to Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the known world.

1. The conversion of Saul of Tarsus and the writing of Romans to Philemon – 34-62 A.D.

    As Peter and the Apostles began to spread the message of the risen Christ, God wondrously converted a persecutor of the church named “Saul of Tarsus”. Upon receiving his call to become a missionary to the nations or Gentiles in Acts 9, Saul would conduct three missionary journeys and be imprisoned multiple times. Paul’s mission efforts and two of his imprisonments covers Luke’s companion volume to the Gospel of Luke, otherwise known as “Acts of the Apostles”. 

    The book of Acts covers the first thirty years of the Christian movement, with Acts 1-12 detailing the ascension of the risen Christ, the ministry of the Apostle Peter, and call of Saul of Tarsus. Acts 13-28 handles three of Saul’s missionary journeys (at which point his name would be changed to “Paul”), providing the background for the thirteen letters he wrote, which appear in our New Testaments, stretching from Romans to Philemon. Galatians and 1 & 2 Thessalonians were among his earliest writings (49-52 A.D.) Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians were written during his third missionary journey (55-57 A.D.) Then Paul’s letters to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon were all composed during his first Roman Imprisonment, which we see at the end of the Book of Acts (60-62 A.D.)

2. Two more Gospels are written, along with Acts – Mark and Luke. 60-62 A.D.

    As the early church went from being predominately Jewish and Jerusalem centered to more Gentile and focused on reaching the world, the Holy Spirit saw fit to raise up Apostolic authors and books to spread the message of Jesus. Next to Jesus, the most influential persons in the New Testament were the Apostles Peter and Paul. Peter is credited in church history as preaching a series of sermons on Jesus’ life, which would become written down by John Mark into what we know today as “The Gospel of Mark” (roughly 60-62 A.D.) 

    As Peter preached these sermons, he is alleged to have used a newly written Gospel by an associate of the Apostle Paul, known as Luke. This book would become known as “The Gospel of Luke” and would serve the Christians well in spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a largely Greco-Roman audience. Mark’s Gospel served to validate both Luke’s Gospel and the message preached by Peter as matching closely with the Gospel of Matthew (again, roughly 60-62 A.D). 

    All three Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, are known collectively as the “Synoptic Gospels”, since they portray the life of Jesus in a somewhat similar way, focusing our attention mostly on His humanity while giving glimpses of His deity. We have already made mention of the Book of Acts. It was the companion volume to Luke’s Gospel, functioning as a Divinely inspired history of the Church from Jesus’ Ascension to Paul’s first Roman imprisonment, stretching from 33 A.D. to 62 A.D.

3. The remaining New Testament letters, John’s Gospel, & Revelation. 64-95 A.D.

    As we round out our survey of the composition of the New Testament books, we can note first a collection of eight letters known as the “General” Epistles. The reason for this naming of the group is that the letters are addressed to more generalized groups of believers or churches, rather than to specific persons or specific churches. 

    The book of Hebrews is most intriguing, in that we do not know the identity of the author (though many think it was Paul, however that remains to be proven with certainty). James, as we already commented, was among the earliest of New Testament books. The letters of Peter and the three letters of John urge faithfulness and defense of the faith in the face of persecution. Then lastly, the little book of Jude urges the reader to contend earnestly for the faith.

    The Apostle John was the only Apostle that did not die a martyr’s death. In 85-90 A.D. he composed his Gospel, which functions as a supplement to Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Then, as we already noted, he composed three short letters which function to enumerate the essentials of the Christian faith. It is that final book of the Bible, “Revelation” or “Apocalypse” which crowns the New Testament and finishes both canons (Old and New).

    The Gospels lay the foundation, as the Law laid the foundation in the Old Testament. It is by the Gospel accounts we find Jesus portrayed. Acts corresponds to the historical recounting of the early church, just as the historical books deal with Israel’s founding and history with God. It is by studying the Book of Acts we see Christ preached. The letters of Paul and the remaining New Testament letters (General Epistles) parallel the “writings portion” or poetic books of the Old Testament. It is in the Epistles we see Christ explained. Lastly, the Book of Revelation is the most prophetic book in all the New Testament, pointing us to Christ’s second coming, as the 17 prophetic books of the Old Testament pointed to the first coming. The Book of Revelation shows us Christ preeminent.

    In our next post, we will pull together our discussions about the canonization of the New Testament, exploring why it is relevant to Christians today. 

Monday, November 7, 2022

The Doctrine Of Scripture Series - Jesus' Promise Of The New Testament, Its Recognition, Collection, And Overall Arrangement


    In my last post, I began to consider the canonization the New Testament. Readers can review the last post by clicking on the following link

    In today's post, we want to continue looking at the canonization the New Testament books by noting how Jesus Christ Himself is the reason behind it. Jesus anchors any discussion of Old Testament or New Testament canonization. He on the one hand affirmed the 39 book Old Testament we know today, as well as having fuliflled its hundreds of prophecy about Him. On the other hand, He also promised what would become the New Testament. The point of the New Testament is to portray (Gospels), proclaim (Acts), explain (Epistles), and show as preeminent (Revelation) the Lord Jesus Christ. This post will look at what exactly Jesus did promise about the forthcoming New Testament that would follow after His ascension into Heaven. We will also look at how the early Christians began to recognize and receive the New Testament books.

Jesus promised the "then" forthcoming books that would be The New Testament.

    Jesus promised his disciples that when He sent the Holy Spirit following His ascension into Heaven, the Holy Spirit would remind them of all He had taught them. John 16:12-15

“I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. 14 He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. 15 All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.”

    Just as the Old Testament began and grew with the cycle of God’s revelation, acting redemptively in history, and subsequent recording of both revelation and act in Scripture, we see this same cycle in the New Testament.

The reception and recognition of the New Testament Books.

    As we now turn to recounting the historical formation of the New Testament canon, we must recognize that the Holy Spirit’s providential work through the church in this process was motivated by several factors. Norman Geisler in his book “A General Introduction to the Bible”, has noted that persecution, fighting heresy, the need for established churches, and world evangelization were used by God to prompt the church to verbalize what books it already recognized as Scripture.

    When we survey how quickly the church received and recognized the New Testament books, we find that 20 of the 27 books were immediately and universally received and recognized before the end of the 1st century. Those twenty books are the four Gospels, Paul’s letters, 1 Peter, 1 John, and mostly the Book of Revelation. 

    The other seven books (Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2,3 John, Jude, and in a few cases, Revelation) were recognized and used by most churches in many parts of the Roman Empire by the end of the first century, with a few hold-outs trying to determine whether those books were inspired.

    The reader can note the above listing of the New Testament books. As for the overall development and formation of the New Testament canon itself, we can note the following observations.

1. The Gospels, Acts, and Paul’s letters were immediately recognized and put into use as Divine Scripture. As we’ve noted already, the Apostle Peter mentioned Paul’s letters as Scripture in 2 Peter 3:16 and Luke’s Gospel is quoted in 1 Timothy 5:18. 

    The citation of Luke’s Gospel carries with it the automatic acceptance of the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, being Luke had literary dependance on those first two Gospels, as well as his sequel to the Gospel of Luke – namely “Acts of the Apostles”. Also, John’s Gospel, his first letter, and Peter’s first letter came into immediate circulation and use as well. 

    The great church historian Eusebius called these books “those accepted by all”, without question, or what are deemed “homolegoumena” (confessed by all).

2. The General Epistles (Hebrews, James, 2,3 John, 2 Peter, Jude, and Revelation) were immediately accepted and used by most, with some quarters of the Western and Eastern church being cautious. According to the church historian Eusebius, these works were accepted by most, and gradually accepted by all, with a few initially disputing their legitimacy. The term “antilegoumena” is attributed to these books. 

    Thankfully the question of canonicity for these books did not last too long, persisting for only 50 years past the death of the Apostle John and being full recognized by all well within the middle to third quarter of the 100’s A.D. (second century).

    I could elaborate further here, but the interested listener may want to consult Eusebius’ Church History, Book 2, chapters 14 and 15 for the Gospels and Book 3, chapter 3 for the canonization of the New Testament letters and Revelation.

The Shape Of The New Testament Canon

    As for the "shape" or overall arrangement of the canon itself, you have the foundation, being the Four Gospels, corresponding to the Old Testament’s foundational books being that of the Law books or Torah (Genesis-Deuteronomy). Then, you have a book of the history of the church, "Acts", which corresponds to the historical books of our Old Testament (Joshua to Esther). Thirdly, we see letters to the churches that stretch from Romans to Philemon and the eight general letters (Hebrews to Jude), which correspond to the “writings” or “poetic books” of the Old Testament (Job-Song of Solomon). Then of course we have the Book of Revelation, the final prophetic book of the New Testament, corresponding to those seventeen prophetic books in our Old Testaments (Isaiah to Malachi).

Closing thoughts:

    So, we have considered the recognition and formation of the New Testament canon. In the next post we will look at how the the formation of the New Testament Canon conveyed a certain, overall message about Jesus Christ and the Christian faith.